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From Sea to Shining Sea: Key Resources in U.S. Environmental History (March 2015): National Parks

by Larry T. Spencer

National Parks

Yellowstone became the first official national park in 1872, but Yosemite was actually the first area that the federal government set aside to serve as a park. Yosemite was originally managed by the state of California and became a national park only in 1890. These facts, plus the distinctiveness of the two parks, have prompted the publication of many books on Yosemite and Yellowstone. James Hutchings, who published Hutchings’ Illustrated California Magazine from 1856 to 1861, was also one of the early hoteliers in Yosemite.[1] When the valley floor became a national park, Hutchings wanted to retain private ownership of the property. Jen Huntley discusses this controversy in The Making of Yosemite: James Mason Hutchings and the Origin of America’s Most Popular National Park. The army often played an important role as a guardian of the first parks. Harvey Meyerson details their work in Nature’s Army: When Soldiers Fought for Yosemite, part of the “Development of Western Resources” series. Another interesting book about Yosemite is Dayton Duncan’s Seed of the Future: Yosemite and the Evolution of the National Park Idea.

Two useful books on the history of Yellowstone are Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone, by George Black, and Myth and History in the Creation of Yellowstone National Park, by Paul Schullery and Lee Whittlesey. The latter dispels the fairy tale myth often told about the origin of the park. Thornton Waite describes how people traveled to the park in Yellowstone by Train: A History of Rail Travel to America’s First National Park. Peter Nabokov describes the role and restoration of Native Americans to Yellowstone in Restoring a Presence: American Indians and Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is associated with the herds of bison that reside there. However, some bison often cross the border into Montana, which presents an important management problem. Michael Yochim covers this issue in Protecting Yellowstone: Science and the Politics of National Park Management.

Some general works on national parks include National Parks: The American Experience by independent scholar Alfred Runte and a comparable work, An American Idea: The Making of the National Parks by Kim Heacox. In 2009, Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns produced a PBS series on the national parks, and Duncan authored the book to accompany the series; both are titled The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. For many parks, particularly the western parks, Native Americans either lived in or used the park area. Robert Keller and Michael Turek cover this topic in American Indians and National Parks. As noted above, getting to the parks by train was a common experience, particularly in the nineteenth century. Alfred Runte discusses this aspect of transportation in Trains of Discovery: Railroads and the Legacy of Our National Parks. In Pilgrimage to the National Parks: Religion and Nature in the United States, Lynn Ross-Bryant discusses some of the reasons for going to a national park.


[1] Hutchings’ Illustrated California Magazine, accessed November 17, 2014,


Works Cited